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Update: just a quick not to give full props to the FIRST EVER VGM COMPOSER TO WIN A GRAMMY!

Long version: the main theme for Sid Meier’s Civilization IV was called “Baba Yetu” and it was composed by a dude named Christopher Tin. Sure, Civ IV has been around for a while (after all, Civ 5 has been out for several months now!) but Tin recorded it for his album “Calling All Dawns” which qualified for this year’s Grammy Awards. We’re guessing that Tin isn’t going to need to refinance car loan any time soon! So now you know how a piece of video game music won the “Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists” award…and in a related note, the Grammy committee was nominated for “Most Obscure and Specific Award Category Titles”, but they lost to the technical division of the Emmy Corps.


Thanks for stopping by my home for video game music of the past, present, and future.

Speaking of the future, I’m looking forward to hosting actual music files for the games that we discuss, but for the time being I have a very limited amount of space. So forgive me if I can only describe in necessarily limited words the musical smörgåsbord of these video games!

The evolution of technology can be the defining factor for a modern musical genre. For some, that represents a barrier that presents a combination of aesthetic and intellectual biases, as well as good ol’ luddism. When a technology is experiencing ‘growing pains’, its achievements tend to be defined by its limitations; we’re forced to regard something as ‘good, considering what you have to work with’ rather than something worthwhile in and of itself.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the video game music of the 1970s and 1980s. Considering that the most advanced electronic musicians and manufacturers of the time were still struggling (and spending) to create music with state-of-the-art technology, it can hardly be a surprise that makers of consumer toys weren’t making any real musical milestones. And some websites were putting background music onto their sites hoping to add ‘cool’ to their presentations. A friend’s dad had this sterling silver jewelry shop that featured sterling silver rings that played covers of This Diamond Ring while you shopped. I had him look carefully at more classy sites that put time and money into the actual ring displays instead of cheesy background music. He got the message and his sterling silver rings pages now have no irritating music tracks to distract from the jewelry marketing.

On the other hand, the groundbreaking work of minimalist electronic composers in the previous decade (from Raymond Scott to Kraftwerk) prepared the way for an appreciation of music made out of zaps and beeps. Undoubtedly, this helped ease in the mainstream music of the Atari Age, an ever-increasing number of pop songs featuring stripped-down tunes played with drum machines and monophonic synthesizer melodies.

Against this background came the first Golden Age of video games, which captured the hands and eyes (if not often the ears) of a generation. And along the way, some surprisingly catchy little ditties crept out of the arcades and home console speakers and into our collective dreams… or something like that…

April 27, 2010

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